Two Japanese destroyers have joined the U.S. carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific, and South Korea said it was in talks about holding joint naval exercises.
South Korean and U.S. officials have feared for some time that a sixth North Korean nuclear test could be imminent and speculation has grown that this, or another missile test, could coincide with the 85th anniversary of the foundation of North Korea’s army, which falls on Tuesday.
Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike, although officials say tougher sanctions are the preferred route.
China is North Korea’s sole major ally but it has been angered by its nuclear and missile programs and is frustrated by its belligerence.
The White House said Trump and Xi “reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
Xi told Trump China “hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation”, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement paraphrasing Xi.
It said the call was the latest manifestation of the close communication between the presidents, which was good for their countries and the world.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaking on NBC’s “Today” program, said Washington and the international community were maintaining pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but “not trying to pick a fight with him”.
Asked whether a pre-emptive strike was under consideration, she said: “We are not going to do anything unless he gives us reason to do something.”
“If you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that. But right now, we’re saying ‘don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions’, and I think he’s understanding that. And China’s helping really put that pressure on him.”
Trump also spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint,” Abe told reporters. “We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly.”
Envoys on the North Korean nuclear issue from the United States, South Korea and Japan are due to meet in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The U.S. government has not specified where the carrier strike group is but U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days”.
Adding to the tension, North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday as he attempted to leave the country.